Behind closed doors, angry Tribune CEO confronts staff

March 15, 2010

Robservations on the media beat:

  • Randy Michaels

    Some who were there said it was an attempt to intimidate employees and identify a scapegoat. Others described it as an effort to assert authority and move beyond an embarrassing episode. But all agreed it was classic Randy Michaels: For close to 30 minutes Friday, the Tribune Co. CEO addressed a closed-door meeting of news staffers at news/talk WGN-AM (720) about the now-infamous memo banning 119 words and phrases from the airwaves. On the subject of leaks, Michaels asked individual staffers: "What do you think should happen to people who do that?" He directed much of his ire at Charlie Meyerson, the WGN news director who circulated the memo, blaming Meyerson for mishandling his directive. Also present were Jerry Kersting, chief operating officer of Tribune Broadcasting, Tom Langmyer, vice president and general manager of WGN, and Kevin "Pig Virus" Metheny, program director of WGN. Earlier the same day, Michaels issued a detailed explanation of the original memo to the Tribune's‚ Eric Zorn. (This time, Michaels referred to me inaccurately as "an out of work blogger.") Here's what Michaels wrote:
" 'The List' was part of a collection of notes distributed by me to the attendees of the recent Broadcast News Directors meetings. There is neither corporate 'banned' list nor are there 'forbidden' words. The list was a collection of 'News English' words and phrases we'd be better off without. I was simply reminding News Directors that jargon, clichés, and misused words are not found in good writing. I was hoping that News Directors would add to the list of crutches. Thanks to all of the publicity, many great contributions have been received, but from outside the company."¨ The 'kerfuffle' is a bit bewildering. Most news organizations have a style book, and the suggestions on that list are pretty basic. "¨It is surprising that some believe that the CEO of a content company should not be concerned about content."¨ As for where the list came from, it clearly came from WGN radio since it had Charlie [Meyerson]'s perhaps unfortunate introduction. It was compiled by a few people after the News Directors meeting. The same list went to all of the TV news directors without public reaction. Someone who works at WGN must think sending internal memos to an out of work blogger who doesn't like us is OK. That part is the most disappointing."
  • In an interview with the Tribune's Phil Rosenthal Sunday, Sun-Times Media Group CEO Jeremy Halbreich said the last-minute rescue of the paper from the brink of liquidation last year (by an investment group led by Mesirow Financial's James Tyree) was a much closer call than anyone knew at the time. Said Halbreich:
"The financial situation was a whole lot more dire than people recognized. Obviously, through a bankruptcy process, if we felt there needed to be changes in certain areas . . . you've just been handed an engraved invitation. What pleasantly surprised me was the strength of the management team in terms of their flexibility and open-mindedness to change. There were ideas that were percolating, and they simply were not in an environment where they could act."
  • Welcome to the club: Tom Hudson, the veteran Chicago newsman who recently signed on as anchor of PBS' South Florida-based "Nightly Business Report," debuted Sunday as a weekly columnist for the Miami Herald. (Here is the link.) He described it as "an off-beat look at money and financial markets for the week ahead." Hudson previously was host and managing editor of the nationally syndicated "First Business" show for Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting.
  • Sheri McDonnell, promotions coordinator at all-news WBBM-AM (780) and a graduate of Columbia College, has been promoted to promotions manager of the CBS Radio station. She reports to Cher Ames Wickert, director of marketing and promotions.
  • Radio DePaul, the student-run station of DePaul University, was named best college station in the nation and picked up eight other top awards from the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System earlier this month in New York. Available online and on iTunes Radio, the 25-year-old station beefed up its programming last fall 2009 to include music, talk shows, author interviews, news, sports reports and play-by-play of DePaul games. "We are humbled and thrilled to be honored by IBS as the best college station in the nation," said Scott Vyverman, Radio DePaul's faculty manager since 2001. "The College of Communication and I are very proud of the work of our students."
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